North Korea SEVERS communication hotlines with the South in major blow to relations

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The North has said this would be the first in a series of steps it would take to eventually cut off all contact with Seoul, Reuters reports. North Korea has issued stern warnings to South Korea in recent days over instances in which activists based in the South have sent balloons over the border containing leaflets that criticised the North’s regime.

The Guardian reports that the leaflets, sent by activists including North Korean defectors, have condemned the North’s human rights record, amongst other things.

The North warned recently that it would shut down a joint factory park in the border town of Kaesong, as well as close a liaison office with the South, if the leaflets continued to be sent.

In response, the South said it would introduce legislation aimed at preventing activists from sending the leaflets.

But the North now appears to have taken further steps against the South.

According to state news agency KCNA, top North Korean government officials said that “the work towards the South should thoroughly turn into the one against an enemy,” Reuters reports.

KCNA also reported that the North has concluded there is “no need to sit face to face with the South Korean authorities.”

The North has reportedly said it would close communications lines at an inter-Korean liaison office, as well as hotlines between the countries’ respective presidential offices.

Daniel Wertz of the US-based National Committee on North Korea said on Twitter yesterday that “regular communication channels are needed most during a crisis”.

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He claimed that the North was cutting these communication lines “to create an atmosphere of heightened risk”.

The liaison office between the North and South was temporarily closed earlier this year in January because of Covid-19 restrictions, meaning that the two countries maintained contact by phone.

The sending of leaflets from the South Korean side of the border to the North is not a new act – reports claim it’s being going on for years.

The leader of one group of activists – Park Sang-hak, chairman of Fighters for a Free North Korea – has said the group was undeterred by the South moving to stop the leaflets being sent.

The chairman told the BBC: “If the leaflets get blocked, then we will send drones. They cannot stop us.”

North Korea’s move to cut off communication with the South appears to be a setback in tensions between the two countries.

In 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and president of South Korea Moon Jae-in held three peace summits that were seen as a sign of improving relations.

In one of the landmark summits, the two leaders declared their intentions to bring “lasting peace” to the region, the Guardian reported.

Last month, China, often seen as an ally of North Korea, expressed concern about the threat that the Covid-19 pandemic might pose to the country.

The BBC reported that China’s president Xi Jinping offered help to the country after receiving a letter from Kim Jong-un in which the North Korean leader congratulated China’s efforts against the virus.

According to state media, Xi responded by saying he appreciated the message and was paying attention to the health of North Koreans.

On Sunday, the Guardian reported that China released a report in which it said it “wasted no time” in sharing information about Covid-19 with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

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